BR: From the Terrace (1960)

March 12, 2016 | By

FromTheTerraceBRFilm: Excellent

Transfer: Excellent

Extras: Good

Label:  Twilight Time

Region: All

Released: January 19, 2016

Genre:  Melodrama

Synopsis: Returning home from WWII, the heir to a family fortune breaks away from his abusive father and engages in an ultimately destructive relationship with a blue-blood seductress.

Special Features: Isolated stereo music track / Vintage Fox Movietone newsreel / Theatrical Trailer / 8-page colour booklet with liner notes by film historian Julie Kirgo / Limited to 3000 copies / Available exclusively from Screen Archives Entertainment.




Although John O’Hara had written screenplays – He Married His Wife (1940), I Was an Adventuress (1940), and Moontide (1942) – between his literary works in short and long-form, he struck gold with Hollywood when Pal Joey, for which he wrote the stage musical’s libretto, was made into a classic Frank Sinatra blockbuster in 1957.

The success of that film seemed to push studios to developing further O’Hara tales, and within the next eight years came Ten North Frederick (19578), From the Terrace (1960), BUtterfield 8 (1960), and A Rage to Live (1965).

From the Terrace is rife with class issues among differing strata of wealthy families as seen through the experiences of an unwanted son, but it’s also a richly sexual melodrama that fits neatly within Fox’s other grand productions, especially Peyton Place (1957), which like Terrace, was directed by Canadian-born Mark Robson.

Ernest Lehman’s screenplay (reportedly crafted with input from O’Hara) is an elegant and highly efficient creature where characters are neatly defined, conflicts precisely seeded and later rooted with gut-wrenching conflicts for the leads, and a wealth of sexual subtext and innuendo that straddles the border between frank and sophisticated. Sex is what makes emotionally abandoned son Albert Eaton (Paul Newman) pursue and conquer debutante Mary St. John (Joanne Woodward), but it’s also fueled by a hunger to rise above his class as the heir to a dirty steel company and enter the elite world of blue-bloods snots whose wealth was handed down by harder-working corporate titans.

Perhaps the most surprising element of Lehman’s script is its classic, almost literary structure which focuses on firming up Albert’s family problems – dad (Leone Ames) misses a favoured dead son, mom’s drinking is rooted in self-hatred and a depraved sexual liaison with a married pig – and his hunger to break free from the family’s wealth and self-destructive activities.

The film’s first act isn’t overlong, but the details of Albert’s miserable emotional life are paramount to contextualizing some of the selfish decisions he makes in his later career; in emotionally abandoning his marriage to Mary; and later engaging in an affair he knows will instantly doom his chances at the legal firm where he achieves meteoric success and earns heavy respect.

Lehman’s adaptation also makes some radical jumps in time which are handled with straight cuts, perhaps a stylistic decision of former editor Robson, who felt visuals and the body language of the characters would be enough to signal a time leap instead of more classic dissolves and eerie slow fadeouts. Case in point is Mary and Albert’s illicit courting, which is confirmed by cutting to the pair in a sailboat rather than another cocktail party scene where things get even hotter (although one could suppose the taut theatrical edit is also the result of judicious trimming to maintain a balance of flow and continuity, as there are some supporting characters who completely vanish after the first act, such as Mary’s parents and Albert’s mother).

An underrated director of fine (if not hugely populist) melodrama, Robson makes that time jump possible because of an expert use of close-ups during their first encounter that immediately follow long distance gazes between Albert from the edge of a room to Mary and good Dr. Jim Roper (elegantly sleazy Patrick O’Neal) on the dance floor, and later terrace. The camera loves Newman and Woodward – never mind the actors were married by then – and it captures in massive CinemaScope breadth and Deluxe pastel colours the gamesmanship between hungry wolf Albert, and Mary, a confident woman who makes her insistent suitor work extra hard to get even a few bits of conversation before a chilly brush-off.

Mary isn’t a lovely character, but she isn’t a gold digger; she genuinely wants to connect and engage in a fulfilling partnership, but her need to maintain her current nigh society status, wealth, and social success means Albert has two choices once rings are slipped on their digits: to deliver the monetary goods yet neglect her needs, or write-off their marriage as a learning experience. Mary recognizes Albert may not succeed without his father’s money nor on his own with reputable financier J.D. MacHardie (Felix Aylmer), so she hedges her bets by keeping Dr. Roper at arm’s length, ringing him up in front of Albert when she’s not the centre of devotion, and meeting Roper when Albert’s working long hours across state lines to bring home the hefty pay cheques that ensure their high life.

The ruinous relationship is given a final death-blow when Albert has an affair with decent, emotionally content Natalie Benzinger (beautiful, underrated, and ultimately underused Fox starlet Ina Balin), and he rapidly realizes his life has been pretty meaningless; the tricky part becomes finding the right time to break away from Mary and start anew in a small, insular mining town with Natalie.

Good does eventually triumph over greed, but Albert has to be pushed to a point of complete desperation, half of which he allows to happen because he can’t make the break on his own volition. He needs to engage in a hot and steamy love affair with Natalie in his home turf of NYC to alert MacHardie’s greedy and jealous son-in-law Creighton Duffy (slimy Howard Caine) and force a nasty blackmailing scheme, but when the end comes, Albert delivers a hefty speech that morphs into a series of customized jabs at his leading tormentors – dry little Fuck You’s which guarantee he can’t come back to NYC’s corporate elite, and must start again in that small mining town.

Robson’s final pre-End Credits crane shot is symbolic of Albert’s moral and emotional success: he meets Natalie halfway between a small island by a brook, and as they both seem to teeter on the wet stones, their grasping hands quickly and instinctively steady each other, enabling Albert to advance to the island where the pair can move forward with their new lives.

The sleaze through which Albert crawls (some self-generated) isn’t gratuitous, but it’s certainly decked out in elegant costumes by Travilla, flattering the healthy figures of platinum blonded Woodward and dark-haired Balin. Robson also has his couples occupying expansive parts of the 2.35:1 ratio: highlights include the intertwined Dr. Roper and Mary, and a great hotel scene in which Natalie is silhouetted by the street lamps below before she and Albert move into high contrast lighting. Not unlike Sinatra’s Some Came Running (1958), there are shots that resemble slick fifties magazine ads where everything looks both beautiful and modern, and Leo Tover’s cinematography is exquisite.

Tracing Albert’s emotional rollercoaster ride is Elmer Bernstein’s lush score, starting with a an appropriately drippy Rachmaninoff-styled piano theme which recurs whenever Albert and Natalie’s love affair is at its most intense.

(The theme’s drippiness is perhaps tied to the era, suited for glossy melodramas like Running but its style is also lampooned in Billy Wilder’s The Seven Year Itch, where an actual Rachmaninoff piece launches a series of ridiculous older father / busty upstairs tenant daydreams of illicit behaviour. It’s to the credit of Wilder and co-writer George Axelrod that the tropes of then-popular melodramas are nailed to the wall and sent-up with such precision and wit.)

Terrace is packed with fine character actors from TV and film: George Grizzard as Albert’s upper-crust pal Lex Porter, Barbara Eden (Flaming Star, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, TV’s I Dream of Jeannie) has one scene playing the unattractively named Clemmie Shreve, and there’s unbilled bit parts for Regina Carroll (Satan’s Sadists), and former silent film star / John Ford repertory member Mae Marsh (Birth of a Nation, Cheyenne Autumn).

The real standout is Myrna Loy (The Thin Man, Cheaper by the Dozen) as Albert’s emotionally brutalized mother, turning what could’ve been a laughable caricature of an unfaithful drunk into a compelling woman who loathes being alive sober and drunk, and lacks the strength to break free. A key reason Albert leaves home is he realizes she can’t be saved, and part of the weight he carries deep into the film is knowing his father died on the day of his marriage to Mary – a final insult to their already bankrupt relationship.

Twilight Time’s kind of spoiled classic Fox fans with lively and hugely informative commentaries, and there’s a sense Terrace was on their hit list but time just didn’t allow for a full 144 minute discussion; it’s a shame, because this ranks as one of the few fifties melodramas that’s aged extremely well, but from existing DVD and TT Blu-ray commentaries, such as the Robson-directed Peyton Place (1957), The Inn of the Sixth Happiness (1958), and Von Ryan’s Express (1965) – one can deduce where the film resides within the era, and Fox’s own glossy and very sexy productions.

Mark Robson’s late career didn’t close with any genuine crowning achievements; perhaps Valley of the Dolls (1967) signaled the end, or maybe it was the bloated, terribly written and absurdly cast disaster classic Earthquake (1974) that wound things down, but certainly during the fifties, Robson crafted a series of glossy colour and widescreen classics which remain the gold stand in melodrama. From the Terrace actually transcends the genre’s inherent drippiness and sleaze because of a rock-solid script, and some amazingly delicious quips by master screenwriter Lehman (North by Northwest, West Side Story, The Sound of Music, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Black Sunday).

Twilight Time’s sparkling Blu-ray sports a clean transfer that retains the film’s unique film grain, and a rich 2.0 stereo track. Elmer Bernstein’s score is presented in uncompressed stereo, and from the prior 2003 DVD TT’s ported over the original trailer (“Presenting The Men, The Women, and The Things That Are Creating A World Of Excitement!”) and a brief Fox Movietone newsreel with starlet Ina Balin attending the film’s premiere and glimpses of other stars including Peter Falk (then starring in Murder, Inc.) and David (Al) Hedison, fresh from the Irwin Allen B-movie The Lost World.

Julie Kirgo’s neat essay synthesizes obvious (and deserved) emotional praise for a film she rightly positions as a transition entry between oversexed (but no less delightful) fifties melodramas and the frank sexuality which started to seep into early sixties productions before the full breakdown of the Production Code and logical implementation of the MPAA ratings system.



© 2016 Mark R. Hasan



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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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